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Presidio County discussed proposed solar project

solar-farm-by-michael-mees
Photo by Michael Mees

A proposed solar power project in Presidio County was a topic of conversation at the Commissioners' Court meeting on May 14 between members of the court and the community. KRTS Intern Sarah Vasquez reports about what what happened during that discussion.

Jon Burke from Element Power and attorney Ryan Morris, from Baker, Botts, L.L.C., attended the meeting to answer any questions about the project. The project is proposed in two phases that each would produce 30 megawatts of power. Element Power is also requesting for a ten-year tax abatement agreement under Texas Tax Code Chapter 312 and a ten-year tax rebate agreement under Texas Local Government Code Chapter 381.

A concern that County Judge Paul Hunt was that the contract was not well-define. He mentioned that the contract says it reserves the specification of the project prior to 30 days before they elect to start construction.
"I think it's in the best interest of the county to make sure that this thing gets built, not that we just enable a fishing expedition, that that intent should be able to specify enough so that it's actually represented in the draft of contract that we present," said Hunt.
Bruke's response is that it is possible to include that, but it would limit the project's ability to get built. He needs that available to him so they can lower their cost of energy to attract customers, but also said it was ultimately the Commissioners' court's decision.

Presidio County Attorney John Fowlkes' wanted to know why does this project cost double the amount the county has funded in the past for a similar project. Burke said the 20 years is to lower the cost of energy to attract customers to contract with him long term. His economics are driven by the cost of power and will use the benefit he gets from this community as well as ISDs to do that. Fowlkes said he understood that, but it doesn't provide incremental benefits to the county.


“In my mind, making your company more attractive to a customer does not necessarily benefit to the county,” said Fowlkes.


The community’s concern, though, is the visibility of the plant. The project would be located south of Highway 90 near the Presidio County line, near the point of the railroad tracks that rides along the highway and breaks off from the old railroad track. Marfa resident Cory VanDyke asked if there were ways to minimize the height or bury cable or anything like that so they don’t have to add to the most precious resource here.


“I can say that I think speaking for some of the people here in the community that we would like to support this if the tax deal works out, but you’re gonna get a lot of resistance and a lot of pressure being applied to these guys if you don’t do every single thing in your power to minimize the impact on the viewscape,” said VanDyke.


He said that if Element Power shows that they really care about that issue, then they will have people to support them.


Since this meeting was just a discussion and the project is in the early planning stages, the decision whether Presidio County will pursue it or not as not been made at this time.